Obituary: Gervase Markham

by
24 August 2018

The Revd Peter Ould writes:

GERVASE MARKHAM, who died, aged 40, on 27 July, was a leading figure at the internet firm Mozilla, where he had worked for almost two decades. He began his work at a software engineer on the Bugzilla project, while still reading for his degree at Oxford University, and, upon graduating, joined the open-source enterprise as its youngest-ever paid employee.

For the next 17 years, he contributed to Christian thinking around new technologies, having, when he was 20, found faith in Jesus. While working on projects including the Firefox browser, he wrote essays that explored the moral position for Christians, free software (exploring the idea of sacrificial giving for the greater good), and the (mis)use of the “share” button. With a huge amount of professional respect in the open-source software community, Gervase was able openly to address from a conservative Christian perspective some of the issues around the resignation of the Mozilla founder Brendan Eich over his donation to the Prop 8 campaign in California. This helped to frame some of the company’s ongoing thinking on its employees’ freedom of conscience.

Diagnosed with Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (ACC), a malignant salivary gland cancer, when just 22, Gervase lived under the shadow of death for almost half his life. He wrote and vlogged openly about living with cancer, cataloguing the progress of the illness through his body over 18 years. He contributed essays on suffering, with the gathering title “Thank God for Cancer”, and was sharing his thoughts and wisdom until just days before his death. At the start of 2018, with the accelerated growth of tumours in his body, he prepared his family and friends for his imminent demise.

On a trip to visit his parents at the family home in Morland, Cumbria, his health rapidly deteriorated, and Gervase died less than a fortnight later at his mother’s house. (His grandfather was Gervase Markham, the Squire and Vicar of Morland, and a descendant of William Markham, the 18th-century Archbishop of York.)

If I have one lasting memory of Gervase, it is from my wedding in 2006, at which Gervase invited into the church a homeless man who had been sitting outside. He patiently explained to him the service and how it spoke of Jesus, and then made sure he had a hot cup of tea and the first portion of some of the food we were serving straight after the wedding. Even when he had every right to be enjoying himself, he always thought of others, and was looking to see how he could spread his faith in the Saviour whom he knew to be his personal hope in the midst of the encroaching cancer.

Gervase is survived by his wife, Ruth, and three sons.

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